Bikes versus bikes

Just like everyone else on planet Earth I live in a glass house. So I am loathe to throw stones. However, as regular readers of this blog will well know this whole cars versus bikes thing in the media right now has really fired me up. And, having spent the last 4 weeks working in the Sydney CBD, I feel compelled to comment on something that I have observed with disturbing regularity of late: the crazy behaviour of many cycling commuters.

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I am a passionate road cyclist. I ride primarily for fitness, and for sport. Whilst I commute occasionally on my bike, I certainly wouldn’t class myself as a commuter – my regular modes of work transport are car, ferry and train. But since I’ve been based on the corner of Market and Kent Streets – aka Sydney’s commuter cycling central – I have seen plenty of commuter riders from close quarters. And, frankly, it worries the hell out me. In fact, it’s fair to say I actually resent a lot of them. Because they’re only helping to reinforce hugely unhelpful stereotypes that place my life, and those of many people I know and care about, in greater danger than it should be.

Just as you can’t group all motorists together, nor can you with cyclists. Yet I’m beginning to wonder if, because the primary exposure many drivers have is not with responsible road riders but rather these CBD nutters, it’s hopelessly clouding their view of the wider cycling population?

You know, and so do I. These people do not represent all cyclists. Far from it. Yet I fear they are the ones setting the mindset for so many motorists, pedestrians (usually also motorists) and, yes, journalists out there. Every day I see a conga line of commuters running red lights on King Street, swerving through traffic and even mounting pedestrian-filled footpaths, not to mention an alarming number sans helmet – the most instantly visible sign of a rider law breaking. I’ve nearly been cleaned up by a couple of these maniacs. Same goes for the footbridge across Darling Harbour which, at times, resembles a crit track. Wouldn’t that be ironic, a cyclist getting knocked down by….cyclists.

But here’s the thing that’s really stood out to me. Hardly any of these people are on road bikes. They’re on hybrids, fixies and MTBs. And it shits me.

There’s a small, but not insignificant, handful of these clowns out there treating the city roads and footpaths like their own urban playground. These are the squeaky wheels who get all the media oil, as the rest of us quietly try to go about our lives without getting hit by cars or run off the road by delivery vans. Yes, accidents will still happen and many motorists still need to take far greater care; I’m a total believer in the 1 Metre Matters campaign. But the increasing hostility on Sydney roads that’s being fuelled in large part by media hysteria, is itself being fuelled by the actions of an irresponsible few.

I’ve made a conscious decision to start giving these renegade commuters a gobful whenever I see them riding recklessly, always being very sure to inform them I am a rider myself. I think we all have an obligation to do this, to get our own house in order with a bit of good old fashioned self-regulation. Only then can we truly cast stones at everyone else. Who’s with me?

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11 thoughts on “Bikes versus bikes

  1. With you Pete. My job incl. Driving between Waterloo and Woolloomooloo for my tasks. The level of road/traffic awareness and arrogance is mind numbing. You can usu pick good riders by riding style and road craft. Yep usu road bike. Mind you we all make mistakes.

  2. Well written Pete. Whilst visiting a client recently in Waterloo I too witnessed horrific displays of bicycle riders diagonally taking intersections dodging pedestrians etc etc etc. And yes on hybrid styles of bikes. Maybe it is time to identify to the masses that there are people riding bicycles, and then their are cyclists…. And yes we do all make mistakes as Col has said, but not with the blatant disregard that I have seen when in the city recently….

  3. Well written, I’m with you too Pete. I’ll be sure to verbally acknowledge the poor behaviour whenever I’m cycling through the city.
    In defence of my off road brothers, it’s a pitty that you have to include MTBs in your list of cycling ding bats as “real” MTB’ers ride/race their MTBs, in the mountains.

  4. I agree, up until the point where you imply that they’re not real cyclists because they aren’t on a road bike, which is a load of shit.

    I am a commuter, and I observe the rules and equally get the shits with those who don’t. I also ride a road focussed hybrid because they are better for the varied conditions and the slightly more upright position gives good visibility of twits coming out of driveways. The type of bike has no bearing on my behaviour, and the hybrid is to my mind the most appropriate vehicle to commute on.

    For what it’s worth, on my 17k commute about 2/3 are on hybrids but the idiots running reds and weaving through pedestrians are more likely to be on a road bike in my experience.

    1. I have nothing against flat bars and hybrids per se, James. Totally get they’re good for commuting which is obviously why they make them. Perhaps your experience is different, and fair play to you as it sounds like you’re out there every day, but from where I’ve been watching in the last month (and I have been watching, quite intentionally) I’ve seen things differently. I totally agree with you – ‘cyclists’ can ride all kinds of bikes. But that handful of idiots out there who give the media plenty of ammunition to sink the boot into ALL of us, well, they’re not cyclists at all. They’re just wankers with bikes.

      1. On that we definitely agree. I don’t know if it’s ego, or something else but the sense of entitlement that is evidenced by so many people (be they pedestrian, cyclist, or driver) is dumbfounding.

        I’ve seen cyclists abuse pedestrians for not looking when they cross, when the cyclist themselves was running a red. I’ve seen pedestrians walk out in front of vehicles against the lights and they either look and “assume the car/bike has seen them” or don’t even look and simply cross because the person beside them was crossing. I’ve seen cars do all sorts of crazy things too but these are normally reserved for the suburbs, in the CBD the drivers actually tend to be the law abiding ones. That said, I’m generally to be of the view that the CBD shouldn’t have any private cars in it and instead should be full of public transport. Coz Sydney’s public transport system is so good and all 🙂

  5. I commute most days and there are nutters on all forms of bikes. I walked home from the city last night for the first time in years and it was actually really intimidating walking across darling harbour and the ANZAC bridge, you feel as if cyclists are passing you far too close. The same sort of feeling when cars pass too close when your on your bike. All cyclists should bear that in mind.

  6. I commute into town after Tuesday and Thursday rides and generally speaking most road bike riders understand a safe following distance, their own ability and traffic flow. Having said that though, I’ve had a side mirror nearly fall victim to a dude trying to track stand and losing it. A lot of close calls I’ve seen have been perpetrated by nervous commuters (I call them “twitchers”) that misjudge a lot of road conditions and ability. From belting it downhill with no regard to cross streets and braking distance in the event of an emergency stop and then banking up cycling traffic up hill, forcing cyclists to wonder out of the bike lane. Most non helmet/red light running and dangerous riding is generally committed by a very particular type of user, and I can confirm in my experience it’s generally not the lycra brigade.

    The most despicable thing I’ve seen in a middle aged bloke with his kid on the back of his bike running a red at ultimo. I was in two minds to chase after him and let him have it, but I could have endangered the child’s life.

    I won’t confess to being the best cyclist, but I did start off cycling as a commuter on a mountain bike with no lights or reflectors. I learnt very important lessons which I hope will serve me well in the future. I believe that you don’t tend to see a lot of dangerous behavior amongst the lycra brigade because they have the experience and those close calls to understand the dangers of road riding. Also because you get pulled up during training rides/group rides if you’re in the wrong and that does stick.

    1. That’s a really good point you make Donald, about riding within your limits. It’s a bit like when you go skiing. Some people are out of control because they’ve made a mistake, but there’s that reckless minority who hurtle down the mountain with scant regard for their or anyone else’s safety – on purpose.

  7. Makes perfect sense to think that badly behaving cyclists will provoke retaliatory bad behaviour from motorists. Not necessarily true.
    In New York the cyclists are far and far worse than ours. Highly unusual to see a New York cyclist stop for a traffic light. Very commonly they ride against the flow of traffic! Weave through crossing pedestrians at speed. Almost never wear helmets or carry lights at night.
    Yet when we were cycling there just recently, we found the motorised traffic would keep a good distance, let us change lane (always), and generally have respect. It is actually much easier to cycle around New York than Sydney.
    Perplexing, I know, but the only conclusion you can draw is that there is more to it than ‘an eye for an eye’.

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